Uncalibrated quantum experiments act clasically 2020-07-21T05:31:06.377Z · score: 19 (10 votes)
Measly Meditation Measurements 2018-12-09T20:54:46.781Z · score: 61 (17 votes)
An Invitation to Measure Meditation 2018-09-30T15:10:30.055Z · score: 8 (7 votes)


Comment by justinpombrio on Introduction to Cartesian Frames · 2020-10-24T20:57:32.281Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

First: and then:

Comment by justinpombrio on Babble challenge: 50 ways of sending something to the moon · 2020-10-02T01:49:11.842Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

50 ways to send something to the moon. Although it ended up more like 25 ways to send something to the moon and 25 ways to avoid sending something to the moon.

  1. Mail it.
  2. Where will the moon end up in 1 billion years? Invent time travel, put something there in the future, then send it back in time to today's moon.
  3. Rail gun.
  4. Space elevator to get it to space, then nudge it. Assuming it can deal with the landing.
  5. Giant slingshot. By which I mean spin, then release. This isn't silly, there's a serious startup doing it right now. (To get things to space, not the moon, but shouldn't be very different.)
  6. Space elevator, then give it a parachute, then nudge it to the moon.
  7. Big cannon, with gunpowder.
  8. Put it on a rocket. Rocket to take off & rocket to land.
  9. Invent teleportation, and teleport it.
  10. Does the thing really have to start on earth? Make it on the moon. Makes shipping much easier.
  11. Compressed air cannon.
  12. Land bridge, that's connected to the moon but not the earth. It gets within a few miles of earth.
  13. Big tree on earth. At the right time of day, its highest point gets close to the moon.
  14. Earth is in such a big gravity well. Maybe make the thing on a moon like phobos (which I know from UT), then send it via one of these methods to the moon.
  15. Make it in space, then drop it to the moon.
  16. Is it digital? I hope it's digital. Email it!
  17. Send it through the IPFS. Because it's digital.
  18. Ok, it's not digital. But it can be 3d-printed right? Email the design to an automated printer!
  19. Seriously, you don't want to physically send the thing to the moon. Start a manufactoring service on the moon. It taAlthough this turned more into 50 ways to avoid sending something to the moon.kes instructions to make something, and makes it, and ships it. All very automated. You send them a JSON file and some dollars and they make the thing.
  20. Is it audio? Is it a song? Call them up and sing.
  21. Why are you still trying to physically send it? Is it because you feel that if the thing is also on Earth, you haven't really sent it to the moon after manufacturing it there? How about manufacturing it there, then destroying the copy on Earth? Is that satisfactory?
  22. Ok maybe the thing is very expensive. Like a big diamond. Don't send it on its own. You don't need a dedicated rocket to send a diamond! Bulk shipments! Group it with the next hundred items.
  23. Wait 50 years until we have better technology, then send it.
  24. Get someone to inadvertently bring it to the moon. Like Musk is going there because he likes space, slip it in his pocket. Might need to pay a lunar pick-pocket to get it back after.
  25. Convince a big company that they want to advertise the thing on the moon, and get them to foot the shipping bill. Ok, maybe there is no manufacturing capabilities on the moon, and that's why you're so insistent on shipping this thing. Maybe it is the manufacturing facilities.
  26. NANITES. Send nanites. Have them make the manufacturing facilities.
  27. Take the thing, turn it into magical goop, and haphazardly slingshot the goop. Then tell the goop to return to its original form.
  28. Invent AGI and ask it to ship the thing to the moon.
  29. Magic. Literal magic. Wave your wand and speak in latin.
  30. Does it really have to be the moon, or do you just need people to think its on the moon? Send it to a film set that looks like the moon.
  31. Pay the moon people to say you sent it to them even though you didn't.
  32. Fake the moon transmissions to make it sound like the moon people got the thing even though they didn't.
  33. If it's a plant, grow it on the moon.
  34. If it's a plant, send the seed, then grow it on the moon.
  35. In general, instead of sending X, send a generator for X. Ok I'm going to actually thing about how to get matter from Earth to the Moon again.
  36. Strap a rocket on it.
  37. Warp space so that the moon is 20 feet away, then toss it.
  38. Turn its matter into energy, beam it via microwaves, then turn the energy back into matter.
  39. Turn it into plasma, stream it over, turn it back.
  40. Put it in a big bouncy ball, and toss that over (say with a slingshot or railgun as previously mentioned). Like we did with that mars rover.
  41. Have a space station between the earth and moon, with long ropes (read: cararbon nanotube ropes). Lift it up one rope, and down the other.
  42. Take a chunk out of the moon, and send it to earth. Then ship everything you want there.
  43. Take a chunk out of the earth (say around a big factory city), and send it to the moon. Then ship from earth-chunk to moon-desination. Right, physically moving a thing from one place to another. Back on track.
  44. Space train. I'm just now feeling out of ideas.
  45. Regular slingshot. Like with big stretchy cables. With a big foamy spot for it to land.
  46. Defeat gravity. Then use a gravity-ignoring spaceship with tiny little compressed-air jets.
  47. Rocket, powered by nuclear explosions. Probably not good for the environment.
  48. Big see-saw. When a shipment comes in from the moon, it lands on one end. It is on the other end, and gets flung to the moon.
  49. Same idea for space elevator. For balance, an object from the earth and an object from the moon of the same weight are pulled in unison to meet at the middle, then lowered on the other side.
  50. Really big fans. Fast enough to send the thing out of Earth's gravity. Though that probably wouldn't be good for the environment.
  51. Compressed air tube.
Comment by justinpombrio on Puzzle Games · 2020-09-29T03:45:32.980Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would add the Talos Principle, which is I think my second favorite puzzle game, after Baba Is You. IIRC, the length and difficulty were on par with The Witness (i.e., long and hard).

I recall many of its puzzles being blindingly obvious in retrospect, after an hour of banging my head on a wall.

Comment by justinpombrio on Maybe Lying Can't Exist?! · 2020-08-23T14:03:41.366Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Going back to your plain English definition of deception:

intentionally causing someone to have a false belief

notice that it is the liar's intention for the victim to have a false belief. That requires the liar to know the victim's map!

So I would distinguish between intentionally lying and intentionlessly misleading.

P. redator is merely intentionlessly misleading P. rey. The decision to mislead P. rey was made by evolution, not by P. redator. On the other hand, if I were hungry and wanted to eat a P. rey, and made mating sounds, I would be intentionally lying. My map contains a map of P. rey's map, and it is my decision, not evolution's, to exploit the signal.

causing the receiver to update its probability distribution to be less accurate

This is an undesired consequence of deception (undesired by the liar, that is), so it seems strange to use it as part of the definition of deception. An ideal deceiver leaves its victim's map intact, so that it can exploit it again in the future.

Comment by justinpombrio on What am I missing? (quantum physics) · 2020-08-22T02:53:49.114Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's also a 3blue1brown video on Bell's theorem:

Comment by justinpombrio on Uncalibrated quantum experiments act clasically · 2020-07-22T05:44:25.006Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. It was the diagram that was backwards; I meant for to be the amplitude of reflection, not of transmission. I updated the diagram.

Comment by justinpombrio on Uncalibrated quantum experiments act clasically · 2020-07-22T05:35:23.257Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for taking the time to write this response up! This made some things click together for me.

In quantum mechanics, probabilities of mutually exclusive events still add: P(A∨B)=P(A)+P(B). However, things like “particle goes through slit 1 then hits spot x on screen” and “particle goes through slit 2 then hits spot x on screen” aren’t such mutually exclusive events.

That's a good point; is a strong precise notation of "mutually exclusive" in quantum mechanics. I meant to say that "events whose amplitudes you add" would often naturally be considered mutually exclusive under classical reasoning. ("Slit 1 then spot x" and "slit 2 then spot x" sure sound exclusive). And that if the phases are unknown then the classical reasoning actually works.

But that's kind of vague, and my whole introduction was sloppy. I added it after the fact; maybe should have stuck with just the "three experiments".

The Born rule takes the following form:

Ah! So the first Born rule you give is the only one I saw in my QM class way back when.

The second one I hadn't seen. From the wiki page, it sounds like a density matrix is a way of describing a probability distribution over wavefunctions. Which is what I've spent some time thinking about (though in this post I only wrote about probability distributions over a single amplitude). Except it isn't so simple: many distributions are indistinguishable, so the density matrix can be vastly smaller than a probability distribution over all relevant wavefunctions.

And some distributions ("ensembles") that sound different but are indistinguishable:

The wiki page: Therefore, unpolarized light cannot be described by any pure state, but can be described as a statistical ensemble of pure states in at least two ways (the ensemble of half left and half right circularly polarized, or the ensemble of half vertically and half horizontally linearly polarized). These two ensembles are completely indistinguishable experimentally, and therefore they are considered the same mixed state.

This is really interesting. It's satisfying to see things I was confusedly wondering about answered formally by von-Neumann almost 100 years ago.

Comment by justinpombrio on Uncalibrated quantum experiments act clasically · 2020-07-22T03:06:32.482Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I just find it mighty suspicious that when you add two amplitudes of unknown phase, their Born probabilities add:

E[Born(sa + tb)] = Born(sa) + Born(tb)    when s, t ~ ⨀

But, judging from the lack of object-level comments, no one else finds this suspicious. My conclusion is that I should update my suspicious-o-meter.

Comment by justinpombrio on Uncalibrated quantum experiments act clasically · 2020-07-21T23:16:41.621Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for all the pointers! I was, somewhat embarrassingly, unaware of the existence of that whole field.

Comment by justinpombrio on A Sketch of Answers for Physicalists · 2020-03-14T14:18:29.475Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Would you and Jessicata mind clarifying what you mean by "physicalism"? Is it the same or different than Yudkowski's definition of "reductionism", for which he said:

Reductionism is not a positive belief, but rather, a disbelief that the higher levels of simplified multilevel models are out there in the territory.

For example, I'd like to separate:

Physics-y (i.e., low level) maps are always better than high-level maps.


Physics-y (i.e., low level) maps always make predictions that are at least as accurate as high-level maps, given sufficient information and computation.

I'm suspicious that Jessicata may be attacking a straw version of physicalism while you're defending a steel version, but it's hard to tell. (And even if not, it's nice to know exactly what's under discussion.)

Comment by justinpombrio on Humans Are Embedded Agents Too · 2019-12-27T00:51:53.784Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ooh, that is very insightful. The word-boundary problem around "values" feels fuzzy and ill-defined, but that doesn't mean that the thing we care about is actually fuzzy and ill-defined.

Comment by justinpombrio on Humans Are Embedded Agents Too · 2019-12-26T18:28:41.455Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This post points out that many alignment problems can be phrased as embedded agency problems. It seems to me that they can also all be phrased as word-boundary problems. More precisely, for each alignment/embedded-agency problem listed here, there's a question (or a set of questions) of the form "what is X?" such that answering that question would go a long way toward solving the alignment/embedded-agency problem, and vice-versa.

Is this a useful reduction?

The "what is X?" question I see for each problem:

The Keyboard is Not The Human

What does it mean for a person to "say" something (in the abstract sense of the word)?

Modified Humans

What is a "human"? Furthermore, what does it mean to "modify" or "manipulate" a human?


What are the meanings of counterfactual statements? For example, what does it mean to say "We will launch of nukes if you do."?

Perhaps also, what is a "choice"?


What is a "valid profession of one's values"?

Value Drift

What are a person's "values"? Focus being on people changing over time.


What is a "person", and what are a person's "values"? Focus being on people being make of disparate parts.

Preferences Over Quantum Fields

What are the meanings of abstract, high-level statements? Do they change if your low-level model of the world fundamentally shifts?

Unrealized Implications

What are a person's "values"? Focus being on someone knowing A and knowing A->B but not yet knowing B.

Socially Strategic Self-Modification

What are a person's "true values"? Focus being on self-modification.

Comment by justinpombrio on What's going on with "provability"? · 2019-10-14T01:33:10.681Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

All provable statements follow from the axioms

Yes, in any formal system, all provable statements follow from the axioms. However, there are many formal systems. Two of the most commonly used ones are Classical Logic and the Calculus of Inductive Constructions.

In Classical Logic, "forall P, P or not P" is an axiom. So, it's technically provable, but it would be misleading to say that you can prove it without further comment.

In the Calculus of Inductive Constructions (which is an extension of Intuitionistic Logic, if I understand correctly), "forall P, P or not P" is not provable.

So if there's a non-trival proof of "forall P, P or not P", it isn't in either of these formal systems. If you do have one in mind, what formal system (logic) is it in, and what does the proof look like?

Comment by justinpombrio on What's going on with "provability"? · 2019-10-13T23:20:42.306Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In what sense? In Classical Logic it's an axiom, and in the Calculus of Indutive Constructions it's unprovable.

(Interestingly, you can prove in Coq that the negation of "forall P, P or not P" is unprovable. So it's safe to assume it: )

Comment by justinpombrio on Who lacks the qualia of consciousness? · 2019-10-07T03:09:42.549Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I may not be turning my attention to it all the time, but like my left foot, there it is whenever I do.

When you do turn your attention to it, what is it like? Could you try to describe it in a way that would be useful for someone who does not experience it? For example,

Smell is a sensation, distinct from others like sight and sound. It detects particles in the air using the nose, and if you hold your nose than you mostly stop experiencing smell. Air in different places will smell differently. Smell emanates from certain objects, like wet socks or foods, and spreads out through the air. There are very many distinct smells; for example I can tell if popcorn is nearby from the smell, and I don't think I've ever confused the smell of popcorn for anything else. While color can easily be separated into components (e.g. RGB), I'm not aware of any nice separation like that for smells. Smells can be pleasant or unpleasant: flowers really do smell good sometimes, and a smell can be so bad that it makes you feel nauseous and is painful to experience. People mostly agree on what smells are pleasant or unpleasant. If I enter a place with a different smell, I'll tend to notice it immediately, then adjust to it and stop noticing it, unless it is particularly strong. I don't recall ever having smelled something in a dream.

I'm asking because there is more than one thing that I have experienced that could be what you are describing, and I'm not yet sure which of these things you are trying to refer to, or if you're referring to something else which I have not experienced and I'm a p-zombie.

Comment by justinpombrio on Who lacks the qualia of consciousness? · 2019-10-06T15:17:57.911Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So I shall try to describe the experience. I have a vivid sensation of my own presence, my own self. This is the thing I am pointing at when I say that I am conscious. Whether I sit in meditation or in the midst of life, there I am. Indeed, more vividly in meditation, because then, that is where I direct my attention. But only in dreamless sleep is it absent.

Can you be much more specific about what you mean?

For example, I have had dreams in which:

  • I was me, walking around and doing stuff, and aware that I was dreaming.
  • I was me, walking around and doing stuff, from the usual perspective, but unaware that I was dreaming.
  • I was someone else (with a different name, history, body etc.), walking around and doing stuff, from the usual perspective.
  • I was me, walking around and doing stuff, but viewed from a third-person vantage point.
  • There were some people. One of them stood out, and was the "focus", but they felt more like the main character of a movie than "me".
  • There were some people, and none of them stood out from one another.

In which of these cases was I a p-zombie?

However, dreams to me are vague and fuzzy in comparison to the real deal, being awake. While I'm awake, I typically have what could be called a "self" with the following properties:

  1. Spatially, my self is located behind my eyes, I think?
  2. My self comes with knowledge and expectations of my personality and behavior. Like "I'm a professional, I'll behave professionally" when working, or "wheee, kitty!" when in proximity to a feline or image thereof.
  3. My self comes with a mood. Like "I just woke up, and am groggy, ugghh".

I think these properties are generally lacking when I dream, but it's hard to tell. E.g., I recall dreams in which I was afraid, but not dreams in which I was grumpy or groggy.

After meditating for a long time, I sometimes enter a state of mind that lacks some of these properties:

  1. I'm not sure about the spatial location thing?
  2. The knowledge and expectation of my personality and behavior is still available, but feels less important and it feels more like I have a choice at each moment.
  3. I tend to view moods as their component pieces. E.g. "I'm grumpy" becomes "physical sensation plus change in movement of attention plus bias in what thoughts arise".

Beyond of these specifics, this states of mind tend to come with a very strange feeling of something missing that was ordinarily there.

Which of these properties, when lacking, makes me a p-zombie? Or have I not captured it; is this thing that I call a "self" totally different from what you mean by "qualia of consciousness"? Either way, what properties does your "qualia of consciousness" have?

Epistemic status: generally muddled about all of this; suspicious that my ontology is wrong; certain that most attempts at communication around this topic go poorly.

Comment by justinpombrio on The Curious Prisoner Puzzle · 2019-08-29T00:41:12.514Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I believe I was thinking of this one:

Comment by justinpombrio on Thoughts from a Two Boxer · 2019-08-23T03:42:55.837Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's also a general reason to try to handle unrealistic scenarios: it can be a shortcut to finding a good theory.

For example, say you have a real-valued cubic equation, and you want to find real-valued answers to it, and imaginary answers don't even make sense because in the situation you're trying to model they're physically impossible. Even so, your best approach is to use the cubic formula, and simply accept the fact that some of the intermediate computations may produce complex numbers (in which case you should continue with the computation, because they may become real again), and some of the answers may be complex (in which case you should ignore those particular answers).

Solving real-valued polynomials gets a lot easier when you first consider the more general problem of solving complex-valued polynomials. Likewise, solving decision theory without mind reading might get a lot easier when you first consider decision theory with mind reading. Good theories are often very general.

Put another way, I don't want my algebra to completely break down when I try to take the square root of a negative number, and I don't want my decision theory to completely break down just because someone can read my mind.

Comment by justinpombrio on Verification and Transparency · 2019-08-09T04:33:38.735Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm confused: you say that transparency and verification are the same thing, but your examples only seem to support that transparency enables verification. Is that closer to what you were trying to say?

Type signatures in a strongly typed language can be seen as a method of ensuring that the compiler proves that certain errors cannot occur, while also giving a human reading the program a better sense of what various functions do.

Yes! A programming language does this by restricting the set of programs that you can write, disallowing both correct and incorrect programs in the process. It has to, because it's infeasible (uncomputable, to be precise) to tell whether a program will actually hit "certain errors". For example, suppose that searchForCounterexampleToRiemannHypothesis() will run forever if the Riemann Hypothesis is true, and return true if it finds a counterexample. (This is a function you could write, I think.) Then if the Riemann Hypothesis is true, this program:

if (searchForCounterexampleToRiemannHypothesis()) {
    "string" / "stringy" // type error

is a perfectly fine infinite loop that never attempts to divide "string" by "stringy". Nevertheless, a (static) type system will overzealously disallow this perfectly dandy program because it can't tell any better.

So type systems weaken the language. While that example was concocted, there are more realistic examples where you have to go out of your way to satisfy the conservative type checker. But, to your point (and against my point in the beginning), they weaken the language by requiring type annotations that make the language easier for the type checker to reason about (verification), and also easier for people to understand (transparency). There is a tradeoff between verification&transparency and expressiveness.

Comment by justinpombrio on The Competence Myth · 2019-07-01T02:34:18.303Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Make sure you're not dividing people into the camps of "competent" and "incompetent" too strongly. Yes, competence varies between individuals. But it also varies between areas for a given individual. And it varies day-to-day.

Today I was getting ready to go for a bike ride. I filled a bottle of water, got the bike out, discovered that it had a flat tire and I couldn't fix it, and put the bike away. After I couldn't find the bottle of water. I looked everywhere, twice. An hour later I realized I had put it in the bike's bottle holder while I had the bike out.

This is normal. Everyone makes mistakes all the time. I'm a programmer, and one of the things you notice is that no matter how skilled the person, and no matter how trivial the program, they'll write buggy code. Usually a mistake every few lines.

One of the points of the sequence is to try to notice your own mistakes and your own biases, so that you can triage against them. As opposed to digging your heels in and refusing to admit you've done anything wrong, which is a common alternate strategy. (I've also found meditation to help with some of this.)

Comment by justinpombrio on Knights and Knaves · 2019-06-10T19:48:09.143Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

To be able to always lie outwardly, he has to know the truth for himself, so his inner opinion is the truth.

Does it? Imagine an island filled with two groups of people: one group that believes only true statements, and another group that believes only false statements. Even if both groups tried to always be truthful, the first group would only utter true statements and the second group would only utter false statements. How would you tell whether you were on an island with these groups of people, or on an island with knights and knaves?

If you haven't read it, you should check out Raymond Smullyan's book called "What is the Name of this Book?". It's the source of knight and knave riddles, and it's amazing.

If both know of the truth, but are still acting differently, this must be on purpose. So in other words, one wants to harm you and the other not.

Right. The knights want to harm you, and the knaves want to help you. Sadly, both groups were cursed by a witch to forever tell the truth or lie. A knight regrets every statement they make---they want to lead you astray, but are compelled to tell you the truth instead. And a knave also regrets every statement they make---they want to point you in the right direction, but are compelled to lie instead. Their only consolation is that, even by lying, they are revealing information, and they hope that you're clever enough to figure it out.

Comment by justinpombrio on Book Review - Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness · 2019-02-03T17:02:22.295Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I’d also love to hear in the comments what updates other people had from this.

My (distilled and cleaned up) thinking was as follows:

  1. Humans recognize each other mostly by face. I know this because people with face blindness routinely don't recognize people, even if they know them well. I believe that face blindness partially refutes your #3.
  2. Octopuses almost certainly have no particular ability to distinguish human faces. Thus they're probably doing something very different from us.
  3. What are octopuses good at? Mimicking fish and avoiding predators. Maybe they're using some of these skills to recognize humans.
  4. Even so, what are the sensory modalities they might be recognizing us with? Many animals are good with smell, but I presume that doesn't work in the water. Voice, likewise, seems like it might not carry over well. There are a bunch of big visual characteristics: height, skin color, clothing (variable), hair style (may be variable). And gait. I could imagine octopuses being very good at recognizing gait.
Comment by justinpombrio on New edition of "Rationality: From AI to Zombies" · 2018-12-16T17:00:17.227Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW · GW

One thing to keep in mind is that---whether or not it should---price suggests quality. The paperback books are cheap (are you selling them at-price?), which makes me think "mass production novel", rather than "deeply impactful nonfiction". It might be worth putting out an overpriced high-quality version for this reason alone.

And I would be very happy to buy a high-quality version of the books. I like hard covers. Leather-bound would be impressive.

Comment by justinpombrio on Measly Meditation Measurements · 2018-12-13T00:40:07.197Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are you able to sit cross-legged for more than 30 minutes, without moving your legs, without pain? Is there a trick to doing so that isn't "sit cross-legged an hour every day for a year; by then the pain will stop"?

Personally, my leg goes to sleep and starts throbbing, and I hear this is pretty common.

Comment by justinpombrio on Measly Meditation Measurements · 2018-12-12T01:03:15.837Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, this was exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to learn from the "Invitation to Measure Meditation" post. How do you know this---did you need to read a lot of papers, or is there a good survey paper that you could point to?

And do you have a recommendation for how to measure working memory or neuroticism? (It's fine if you don't.)

In the previous post, you suggested taking a Big-5 personality test. I'm allergic to those things, though. They're so vague I don't know what to do: should I answer how I believe I would behave right now, or how I want to behave right now, or how I think I've behaved in the past, or how I want to think of myself behaving, or how I want others to think of me behaving? If the answer is "sometimes very strongly yes, and sometimes very strongly no", is that higher or lower then "always middling"? And I don't think I could keep my beliefs of how meditation would effect my answers from effecting my answers. In short, I can't imagine learning anything useful from a Big-5 personality test.

Working memory, however, sounds much easier to test.

Comment by justinpombrio on Measly Meditation Measurements · 2018-12-10T19:30:47.204Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I tended to meditate either first thing in the morning (going on a hike), or late at night (sitting), and I don't have a record of when I did what. And the pings came randomly throughout the day. So I'm not sure there's much to say here. I'd typically miss pings because my phone was in a different room, or I was outside and didn't hear it. And I often forgot to turn on TagTime in the morning, or forgot to turn it off at night. All in all, it was pretty shoddy experience sampling.

Comment by justinpombrio on Measly Meditation Measurements · 2018-12-10T01:11:11.302Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm going to partially answer your question. The full answer is that I followed the instructions of The Mind Illuminated, and that if you want to meditate regularly I suggest doing the same. And also find a teacher. I lack one and notice the lack; I'll be seeking one out when I move to Boston soon.

I did both sitting and walking meditation. While sitting, I would pay attention to the sensations of my breath, while also trying to be aware of everything else (sight if eyes open; sounds; itches; etc.). My mind would then wander. When I noticed it had wandered, I would return focus to my breath. This would happen over and over again, something like once a minute.

I wouldn't describe meditation as modifying my thought patterns, because the (e.g. breath) sensations I put my attention on are not thoughts. My thoughts take me away from them.

I'd usually sit cross-legged, but when that got uncomfortable I would just sit upright in a chair. You should sit in a comfortable but alert position. (Sit upright! Don't slouch. It seems to me to have a surprising detrimental effect on focus.)

I haven't tried amplifying emotions. I don't know of any style of meditation that centers around that, but I hear there's a wide variety, most of which I know nothing about. I just tried, and wasn't able to immediately produce a strong emotion in myself (just middling ones).

The subjective effect I experience from meditation usually happens after the fact. (Or appears to; it might just be harder to notice when you're repeatedly returning to your breath.) It's a phase transition in my mind. Like I said, I'm rather confused about what's going on, but I can tell you how it feels. It feels (repeatedly) like I have just woken from a dream; my inner monologue grows quieter; it no longer feels appropriate to say that "I am experiencing this", rather there are only sensations; the present feels isolated from the past, even seconds ago; objects in sight feel more real than those not in sight. It sounds (and feels) strange, but A++ would experience again.

Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-10-04T02:27:46.043Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-10-04T01:43:05.207Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, yes, in retrospect that's exactly how you should measure this! However, I think taking full weeks off of meditation would jeopardize my chances of seeing benefits, and I'm not willing to do that. But I will alternate doing tests before and after meditating, as a smaller weaker version of the same idea.

Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-10-04T01:26:25.232Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'll use this. Thanks for the pointer.

Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-10-01T21:48:54.598Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You would also need to control general tiredness and motivation, who can have a large impact on your result

I'm interested in the causal effect that meditation has on my attention, etc. If that effect is mediated through, e.g., reducing fatigue, all the better!

I suggest you use standardized test used for meditation if it exists in pseudo clean condition

Do you know of any? Right now I plan to use tagtime to do free-form experience sampling, plus the meditation games on Quantified Mind once a week or so. (Thanks all for these suggestions!)

Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-10-01T21:39:34.839Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Installed, thanks!

Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-10-01T20:48:01.567Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's an excellent idea!

Does anyone happen to know off the top of their head an easy way to set this up on Android? All I need is random pings in a specified time range, and optionally a text box that records my answers.

I found an app called track that looked perfect for this, but it crashes on my phone.

Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-10-01T19:54:20.511Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wholely agreed: the goals of meditation are internal. The kind of external measurements I can perform will at best capture the shadow of internal changes, and the measurements themselves are going to distract me from meditation. (Literally distract me, as in be a common cause of mind wandering.)

However, this experiment is part of a ploy for myself: I desire the respect of this community; plus I want to keep promises that I made to myself -> I need to follow up on the measurements I said I would do -> I need to meditate regularly.

I expect the net effect to be positive, but how about this: if I find myself not meditating, or stuck at a particular point, and I think the measurements are largely to blame, then I promise to stop measuring.

Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-09-30T22:31:39.333Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

from examining self report data from roughly 200 meditation practitioners

Is this data available? I'd be interested to see it.

Another task is the psychomotor vigilance (PVT) task

Ah, I may add that task as it seems relevant. Your link is going to the wrong place, though, what did you mean to link to?

A simple technique to “objectively” measure focused attention style meditation progress is to use a hand tally counter. During a meditation session whenever you catch yourself mind wandering you simple click the counter.

I don't know what to consider a mind wander. Sometimes there's a big one, and I lose attention and awareness completely until I remember that I'm meditating, and that's pretty clear. But sometimes there's a little one, and I maybe lose attention for half a second but after that my attention returns and the thoughts continue "in the background", and as far as I can tell my attention didn't wander during a breath/footstep but it's hard to tell. And sometimes there's a potential sensory distraction that becomes a little more than that, and either it seems like I'm paying attention to both the distraction and my breath/feet at once, or it seems to jump to the distraction and back, but only briefly.

The issue is that I don't see any clear dividing line between these different situations, and I don't see a clear dividing line between attention and awareness. So I don't know what to consider a mind wander. This isn't a big deal when labeling, because it probably doesn't matter how wide I cast my labeling net, but I wouldn't know how to interpret the counter. Any advice?

For me after a while it became so second nature that I would sometimes have enough awareness to click to register the mind wandering but not enough awareness to actually return to the breath.

Been there, done that :-).

there seems to be a bump in meditation quality that happens after 40 to 45 minutes

I haven't experienced this myself: subjectively the first 5 minutes seem strong, and everything after that seems messy. But I've seen this stated enough places (TMI, MCTB I think, you, other sources that I forget) that I trust it. Yes, I will continue with 1 hour sessions.

OTOH it is likely you will experience changes to well-being before anything more quantifiable shows up:

Yeah, this seems likely. I'm already noticing it chipping away slightly at my neuroses. They're harder to maintain when you see them.

Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-09-30T21:06:11.977Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the warning. I'm going to ignore it and charge ahead, but subjectively measure the results, but in terms of felt motivation actually getting things done (i.e., inside and outside view?).

Comment by justinpombrio on An Invitation to Measure Meditation · 2018-09-30T20:26:30.847Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Right. I'm hoping for a sudden increase in performance for some task. I'm also skeptical of Dual N-Back, as it's hard to imagine suddenly getting better at it. But I can picture, e.g., an "attentional blink" task quickly go from "impossible" to "possible".

Or of course, meditation is a gradual process and all effects are gradual and can be trained independently, and I don't see much.

I just... wouldn't feel like a proper scientist if I didn't test it.

Comment by justinpombrio on Track-Back Meditation · 2018-09-28T16:11:32.577Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, great points.

When I tried track-back meditation, it was a mess that didn't seem to lead to anything but confusion and mind wandering. That was ~2 weeks ago, though, and in the meantime (i) my distractions have gotten briefer, so the chain of events leading to it has gotten shorter, and (ii) I have developed a smidgen of introspective awareness, which I used to lack. As a result, I sometimes take a second to trace back where a distraction come from while meditating, and can often do so in a controlled manner now. It's really interesting how many chains of thought start from something I see or hear; you'd never know by looking at just the last thought in the chain.

So a lesson from my experience might be that if your track-back meditation is going poorly, regular meditation may help. Although the bigger lesson is don't listen to me; read The Mind Illuminated :-).

Comment by justinpombrio on Track-Back Meditation · 2018-09-25T17:13:19.534Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For the stubbed toe, attention is definitely required. However, the mind sense is very different from the other senses. If I understand correctly, if you have attention but not awareness on your thoughts, that is thinking. And I don't know about you, but I personally have little mind awareness. (If I had more, I could notice that I was thinking thoughts before my mind wanders off while meditating, but I only ever notice after I've caught it.) The Mind Illuminated says that I'm going to develop more mind awareness in Stage 4, which I'm not at yet.

Anyhow, that was a tangent. The Mind Illuminated has a table of seven mental problems that might get in your way of meditating, and what to do about them. It sounds like yours is most similar to "procrastination and resistance to practicing", for which you are supposed to "Frequently recall the benefits of practice [in your case, your work], constantly refresh and renew your motivation, and 'just do it'. See Stage one." So, no special meditative solutions here, just ordinary ones.

Meta comment: are your upvotes worth 7 points?

Comment by justinpombrio on Track-Back Meditation · 2018-09-25T03:12:13.656Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is part of it, but another part of it is that The Power of Now recommends something like directly facing your suffering in order to transmute it into consciousness.

The Mind Illuminated recommends the same thing. Its model is that the suffering from pain actually comes from your aversion to the pain, rather than the pain itself, and that putting your attention on the sensation itself tends to improve matters. Can confirm that stubbing my toe while not meditating involves cussing, while stubbing my toe while meditating involves my attention going to a particularly interesting sensation in my toe for a little while.

Aversion is... a "negative mental state involving judgement, reject, and denial. Includes hatred, anger, resentment, dissatisfaction, criticism, impatience, self-accusation, and boredom". As to weather a "mental state" the same or different from an "emotion", and if different what the difference is, I have no idea.

This led me to nonlinguistically focus on any distracting feelings such as not wanting to be doing what I was doing and wanting to procrastinate instead. This was somewhat interesting, but disruptive of productivity.

Ah, I wouldn't have expected that. Good to know!

Comment by justinpombrio on Track-Back Meditation · 2018-09-22T23:37:33.196Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I looked earlier at The Power of Now before, but decided not to buy it because in the Amazon preview of the first few pages, there weren't any Gears. Are there more gears later? Or does it live up to its promise in the introduction to use words loosely and be primarily a guide for intuition?

The Mind Illuminated is a 484-page textbook, organized by what should be useful to know at various stages of meditation. It's full of gears. For example, it gives increasingly complete models of the mind as you progress. I sure hope the gears are accurate; I suspect it will become more obvious whether they are or not later in my practice.

I'm trying to understand your comments. I'm going to try to phrase them in the terminology of The Mind Illuminated, if that works. (It's also possible that these two books have conflicting models of the mind, rendering any attempted translation moot.)

  • Attention is when you focus on one thing in particular. It tends to isolate that thing, and be analytical. It is more "self" centered.
  • Peripheral Awareness, or "awareness" for short, tends to take in a whole sensory field at once (e.g. everything you're seeing), is more contextual and involves less analysis, and is less personal and more objective.
  • Both attention and awareness can be introspective, centered on your thoughts and feelings, or extrospective, centered on your external senses (e.g., hearing or seeing, but not thinking).

As some examples of this terminology (that I hope I'm getting right):

  • Typical mindfulness meditation involves focusing your attention on your breath. The Mind Illuminated says that it's important to also allow awareness to all of your senses as you do this, but this hasn't been clear to me from other sources.
  • When you take in a scene, your attention is on particular part of it (e.g., the orange band around the setting sun), while your awareness is taking in the rest of the scene (the sky and trees). That is, for a few seconds until you get distracted.
  • When your mind wanders, your attention is on your train of thoughts, and you have no awareness. That is, your attention is introspective.
  • When you are performing trace-back meditation, your attention is also introspective, but it is focused on the memory of your past thoughts. (Though it's probably more complicated than this: for example, you're probably doing a mix of remembering past thoughts and thinking in the present "and what could have led to that?".)

It sounds like in your comment, you're saying one of these two things:

If you mentally label a moment as such, or try to verify your awareness (attention?) by checking to see whether you perceive more detail, then you must be thinking about that moment (as in, your inner voice is narrating and analyzing the moment). This can only happen after the fact, so you are no longer in that moment.

If you mentally label a moment as such, or try to verify your awareness by checking to see whether you perceive more detail, then your attention must be on that moment (as in, there is no inner voice, but you are noticing some particular part of the moment, seemingly in the present). This can only happen after the fact, so you are no longer in that moment.

If it's the latter, the "checking in" technique on page 103 of The Mind Illuminated seems relevant:

The second part of cultivating introspective awareness involves checking in using introspective attention. Instead of waiting for introspective awareness to arise spontaneously, as you've done until now, you intentionally turn your attention inward to see what's happening in the mind. Doing this check-in requires longer periods of stable attention. That's why following and connecting [other techniques, just introduced] are so important at this Stage. These techniques give you more stable attention, making it easier to momentarily shift attention and see what's happening in the mind.

Yes, checking in disrupts your focus on the breath, but when you pause to reflect on everything happening in your mind, attention needs to shift. At this Stage, this is not only completely okay, it's actually the key to cultivating introspective awareness. What you're really doing is training and strengthening introspective awareness by using attention, making awareness of the mind's activity a habit. Remember from the First Interlude that peripheral awareness filters through an enormous amount of information and selects what's relevant for attention. But attention also trains peripheral awareness to know which things are important. [...] In this case, if you take attentive interest in what's happening in your mind, in particular whether or not gross distractions are present, you're training awareness to alert you to their presence. [...]

In the next stage, however, you learn to phase out checking-in (i.e., introspective attention), which necessarily shifts your attention, in favor of introspective awareness. So this book is saying that you aren't stuck at always appreciating your mind's activity in the past. But doing so is a necessary stepping stone to appreciating it in the present. (One that I'm not ready for yet.)

The Power of Now did something interesting to my moment-to-moment awareness, but at least in the short term, it seemed to wreck my productivity.

I would expect it to decrease your attention and increase your peripheral awareness. And more specifically to decrease your attention on thoughts, and increase your peripheral awareness of external senses. Does that sound right? Something like this has happened to me in the past, so I may know what you're talking about. Fortunately, it's way easier to shift things back toward attention. Talking or thinking will do it; a thinking-heavy video game (hello Factorio) is very efficient IIRC. I can imagine track-back meditation being especially good at that too, as you say.

Left at this, it seems like a pretty bad trade-off: for me at least, attention on abstract thoughts is way more important to what I do than awareness of senses. But:

  • The Mind Illuminated says that meditation should give your more total attention+awareness, and eventually let you consciously balance the two as appropriate. It may take a while, though.
  • From my past experience, when I had more awareness I felt like I was way worse at things. I noticed every time I forgot something, and saw lots of dumb thoughts. But it seems likely to me now that that's just how things have always been, and that was one of the few times I was aware of it. Do you say your productivity was worse because you actually got fewer things done, or just because you noticed lots of awkward gaps and tangents that might've always been there, previously unnoticed?

The goal of mindfulness might be interpreted in different ways

The goal? The Mind Illuminated has a dozen different goals for the various stages. Overall, it says:

The two main objectives of meditation practice are:

  • Developing stable attention.
  • Cultivating powerful mindfulness that optimizes the interaction between attention and awareness.
Comment by justinpombrio on Track-Back Meditation · 2018-09-17T03:59:15.891Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I just realized that The Mind Illuminated talks about "labeling", which is about noticing the distraction the moment you realize you are distracted, without tracing back.

(It's also what I talked about doing in my other comment: I probably took the technique from the book without realizing it.)

Up to now, you've relied on spontaneous introspective awareness---or what we've called the "aha!" moment---to alert you to forgetting and mind-wandering. When you positively reinforce these spontaneous realizations, awareness learns to catch mind-wandering faster and faster, so that now your mind only wanders for a few seconds. However, your awareness probably isn't strong enough for you to recall what distraction was occupying your attention before your "aha!" moment. You have enough conscious power to "wake up", but not enough to know what was going on in the mind. It's like when someone suddenly asks you what you're thinking about, but you just can't remember.

To strengthen introspective awareness, use labeling to practice identifying the distraction in the very moment you realize you're no longer on the breath. For example, if you catch yourself thinking about your next meal or something that happened yesterday, give the distraction a neutral label such as "thinking", "planning", or "remembering". Simple, neutral labels are less likely to cause further distractions by getting you caught up in the labeling. If there was a series of thoughts, only label the most recent one. Also, always avoid analyzing distractions, which only creates more distractions. Once you've labeled the distraction, gently redirect your attention back to the breath.

Often, the last thing you were thinking about when you woke up from mind-wandering wasn't what initially took you away from the breath. However, as mind-wandering happens less often, the distraction you identify and label in that moment will be the same one that caused you to forget. Eventually, the practice of labeling will strengthen your introspective awareness enough so you can consistently identify which distractions are most likely to steal your attention in the first place. Introspective awareness will eventually be strong enough to alert you to a distraction before forgetting happens. [Emphasis added.]

The bold parts are saying not to do what you've described. Of course, that's for the goal of the book, which is about mindfulness meditation, which involves stabilizing your attention and strengthening your peripheral awareness.

Comment by justinpombrio on Track-Back Meditation · 2018-09-12T00:15:17.539Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I like this idea. I think I'll try it. It's similar to what I've been doing while meditating recently: every time I notice I'm distracted, I'll say the current thought that was distracting me, and count up by 1.

In more detail, for the past 10 days, I've spent an hour or so meditating while walking. I'll let my object of focus vary pretty freely between my footsteps or sounds. When I notice that I've been distracted, I'll say the immediate cause (without tracing back) and count up by 1. I'll count up to around 50 distractions in an hour or so (this is with practice: on the first day I don't think I got past 30 before things became... indistinct?). This has been fairly effective, to the point that today some of my distractions were short enough that I realized their original cause without even thinking about it. I'm interested to see what happens when I try to trace back my distractions.

Something like half of my distractions are thoughts about how awesome I'm going to be once I'm enlightened or whatever. It's ironic that this may be the main thing holding back my meditation practice right now.

I find walking much more effective than sitting. If I try to meditate while sitting, I'll inevitably get groggy. This isn't unique to meditating---I'll get groggy while sitting for a lecture too---I just generally focus better while standing. (Unless I'm coding, in which case sitting is fine? I'm not sure why it's different.)

Question for more experienced meditators: is it ok that I let my object of focus vary? Should I be more concerned about having a consistent object of focus?

Advice for less experienced meditators: "focus on the object of meditation" does not mean what I intuitively thought it did. When trying to do that, I try to focus on that to the exclusion of all else, and it goes poorly. Instead, it means what I would have described as "be present and aware of things in general, and also be aware of the object of meditation in particular". That is, focus on it, but not to the exclusion of other sensations. I learned this from The Mind Illuminated.

Comment by justinpombrio on The Curious Prisoner Puzzle · 2018-06-16T05:05:53.646Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What, exactly, would the guard would say in different situations? Using the standard, utterly unrealistic, interpretation of probability problems like this, the guard is supposed to say this:

VM: If you are on Vulcan, you are in the Mountain
VD: I have nothing to tell you.
EM: If you are on Vulcan, you are in the Mountain
ED: If you are on Vulcan, you are in the Mountain

in which case the probability is 1/3. But I have a hard time believing that the guard is willing to talk to you here, but wouldn't be willing to talk if you were in the Vulcan Desert.

Since the guard refused to talk at first, but then told you something later, it seems pretty clear that they're trying to help you out. The most obvious way for them to communicate to you where you are is like this:

VM: If you are on Vulcan, you are in the Mountain
VD: If you are on Vulcan, you are in the Desert
EM: If you are on Earth, you are in the Mountain
ED: If you are on Earth, you are in the Desert

But there are other possibilities. Perhaps there's a policy of executing guards that reveal information about where you are, so the guard wants plausible deniability by lying to you:

VM: If you are on Vulcan, you are in the Desert
VD: If you are on Vulcan, you are in the Mountain
EM: If you are on Earth, you are in the Desert
ED: If you are on Earth, you are in the Mountain

It seems that you've ruled that out in the problem statement, though.

Altogether, as Dacyn says, "it depends on what you know about the psychology of the guard."

Somewhere in Rationality, there's a post about this.

Comment by justinpombrio on Fun With DAGs · 2018-05-13T22:14:25.103Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And if we assume that the nodes are whole worlds, rather than pieces of worlds.

For example, if I'm also ordering a soda, and prefer Pepsi to Coke, then the relative magnitudes become important. (There's an implicit assumption here that the utility of the whole is the sum of the utilities of the parts.) However, if the node includes the entire meal, so that there are six nodes (chicken, pepsi), (chicken, coke), (pork, pepsi), (pork, coke), (steak, pepsi), (steak, coke), then the magnitude doesn't matter. Are utility functions generally assumed to be whole-world like this?

Comment by justinpombrio on Fun With DAGs · 2018-05-13T21:22:32.569Z · score: 18 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is called a utility function. This utility function U is defined by U(chicken) = 1, U(pork) = 2, U(steak) = 3. We prefer things with higher utility — in other words, we want to maximize the utility function!

Just because you have a DAG of your preferences, does not mean that you have a utility function. There are many utility functions that are consistent with any particular DAG, so if all you have is a DAG then your utility function is under-specified.

First, maybe you don't care about the difference between pork and steak, and remove that arrow from your DAG. In that case, the toposort is going to produce either U(chicken) = 1, U(pork) = 2, U(steak) = 3 or U(chicken) = 1, U(steak) = 2, U(pork) = 3, arbitrarily. Toposort is guaranteed to produce an ordering that matches the DAG, but there might be several of them. (A slight variant on toposort could produce U(chicken) = 1, U(pork) = 2, U(steak) = 2 instead, but that's still a bit questionable because it's conflating incomparability with equality.)

Second, the magnitude of these numbers is pretty arbitrary in a toposort (they're just sequential integers), but very important in a utility function. For example, maybe you really like steak, so that the more appropriate utility function is U(chicken) = 1, U(pork) = 2, U(steak) = 10. You're not going to get this from a toposort.

I just wanted to clarify this, because the post could be read as saying DAG==utility-function.

Comment by justinpombrio on Defining the ways human values are messy · 2018-03-28T04:25:31.284Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Scott A. wrote an article about axiology, morality, and law that distinguishes between some of these concepts. For instance, after reading it I now see a qualitative distinction between morality and preference. (Which isn't to say that no one ever uses those words in ambiguous ways; rather that I see two clearly distinct concepts that largely agree with the way the words are typically used.)

Comment by justinpombrio on Demon Threads · 2018-01-07T07:18:24.973Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Where did the term "demon thread" come from? A lot more people are going to be familiar with the term "flame war". (A search engine will confirm it is a common phrase, and that it is essentially synonymous with what you are calling "demon thread".). If you want to distinguish one from the other, you should have a good reason to do so, and you should tell the reader. Otherwise I'd just say "flame war".

EDIT: Maybe "malignant demon thread" = "flame war"?

Comment by justinpombrio on Type Theory quick question · 2017-07-27T22:14:57.041Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, then you'll want to read about the [](Calculus of Constructions):

Yeah, TAPL is the book on type systems. I'm not aware of competition.

Comment by justinpombrio on Type Theory quick question · 2017-07-26T22:31:46.835Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What is your goal? Type theory is at the intersection of programming languages and logic. If you care about programming languages and type systems, read TAPL:

If you care about type theory purely as a logic, I don't have an obvious recommendation, but could point you at some material.

(Programming Languages researcher)